ICAT Honors class gets visit from Science Museum of Western Virginia

(This semester, I’m teaching an Honors course all about ICAT. We spend each class period in a different ICAT studio or on a different ICAT project. This is the last in a series of guest blogs from my students. Enjoy! ~Phyllis)

From guest blogger Willow Pedersen:

This week, Hannah from the Science Museum of Western Virginia visited our class. With her, she brought water cups, plastic Easter eggs, water balloons, rubber bands, paper clips, and more. Our challenge was to make an object with neutral buoyancy, meaning that it floated in the water, but didn’t sink down or float up to the surface. Almost everyone started with the Easter eggs. My partner, Adham, and I did this. We glued over the holes so that more water wouldn’t come in. Adham explained to me that there was an air pocket in the egg, which I hadn’t realized, so we needed to weigh it down. We cut paper clips to try to weigh it just enough but ended with a final strip of rubber band (the metal was just a little bit too heavy). We watched our classmates experiment with bottle caps, corks, and masking tape.

Once Hannah saw that Adham and I were finished, she gave us another task: create a neutral buoyant object without using an egg. We started this task with a bottle cap and foam, weighed down with buttons. When we realized it wasn’t heavy enough, we reused our paper clip clippings from the Easter egg, which was slightly more effective. While we didn’t get the second object neutrally buoyant, we were one of t  he only groups to successfully complete the first task.

Hannah has all age groups do this activity. It is called problem-based learning, learning from the process of solving a problem. Hannah explained that younger groups tend to find solutions more quickly because they are less intimidated and discouraged by failure. Problem-based learning is informal—we don’t actively seek to learn from the process, but we do. From this, I learned that Easter eggs have air pockets in them, a hot glue stick can be pushed down to get more but the stick will turn into glue before you can get it all out, and foam gets waterlogged and eventually sinks. I went into this to solve a problem, but I ended up learning.

In the context of museums, Hannah said, much of learning happens from experimentation. The Science Museum of Western Virginia has a Scratch area that allows children to program a caterpillar to move from one point to another. It teaches children the fundamentals of programming as they use the program.

What surprised me most about today’s class was how different museums can be. Though I hadn’t thought about it, I realize that a science museum is totally different from an art museum, and it has to be. While children or adults can interact with exhibits to learn about science, that’s just not possible with art. One of my favorite museum moments, in which classroom learning translated to an emotional understanding, was when I visited the Holocaust museum in Washington, DC. There was a room with the shoes of the victims. There were so many pairs, and the pairs represented more people. It was overwhelming and put so much into perspective.

In reference to SEAD, Science, Engineering, Art, and Design, I would say that from the scientist’s perspective, museums use all four. Art and Design are used to come up with exhibits, science and engineering to build them. From a visitor’s perspective, I am concerned only with Art and Design because that is what I see and what I interact with. In the future, museums will be even more interactive. I think as we rely more and more on the internet for our learning, museums will be a supplement. They have physical representations of what we learn about formally. I think paintings may become 3D. At least when 3D Holograms become more popular, there will definitely be interactive holograms in museums. I think there will be museums devoted solely to technology, like the evolution of computers, and tours may not even be given except for guided audio tours. However, I think museums will still use problem based learning to encourage experimentation, and therefore, successful informal learning. Though museums are not necessarily on the forefront of people’s minds, museums fill a niche unlike any other, and a world without them just wouldn’t be as full.

Willow Pedersen: Business. Music. Poetry. Data. Leader/learner. Incredibly lucky to love my life. Inspired to help others love theirs.

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